Madame Bovary - Emma, Christianity, and Adultery

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Emma, Christianity, and Adultery

In Madame Bovary, Emma is depicted as a slave to her desires, namely, to the desire for what she calls love. The origin of these desires appears to stem from her childhood habit of reading romantic novels while she lived in the convent. Because of her idealized picture of what romantic love is supposed to be, she searched desperately for this in real life, but to no avail. It appears that Emma’s suffering is due to her disillusion with reality and her own naivete about the nature of relationships with other people. However, time after time, Emma looks into the face of morality in the respect of her religion. After she does so, rather than reconcile with her faith and repent her adulterous sins, Emma proceeds to commit them again, with a new and refreshed energy. In one of my previous papers I analyzed the role Christianity assigned to love and concluded that Christianity causes people to be enslaved by their Love for God. Although Emma never experienced the same type of Love for God that I discussed, her Christian upbringings played a significant role in shaping the way she looked upon life. Specifically, Christianity contributed a great deal to Emma Bovary’s choice to commit adultery in her search for Love.

The teachings of Christianity encourage the very thing Emma did throughout her entire lifetime—expect better things to come. Worldly things are not to be coveted because grander rewards will come in Heaven. Christians are taught to dream of a better future, eternal life, peace, and happiness. Moreover, Christianity makes its followers live in expectation of something better, and actions are motivated by expectations of these eternal rewards. Christians also martyr those who sacrifice and suffer since the sacrifice of Christ is a symbol of God’s Love. By acting in the imitation of Christ, the rewards and expectations will thus be fulfilled in Heaven. Therefore, in Christianity, Love is used to achieve transcendence. It is a passion that consumes, controls, and allows one to be content with unhappiness and suffering.

Emma wanted happiness and an end to suffering just like other Christians, and she knew that the solution lie in Love. In the convent, she was inspired by stories from the old maid who slipped her romance novels. In the holy atmosphere of the convent, these stories of “love, lovers, swee...

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...ll is to drag out, as I do, a useless existence. If our pains could be of use to some one, we should find consolation in the thought of sacrifice” (168). Because she felt this alienation from God, she struggled to practice Christianity. She knew what she desired, but she did not know how to attain it. Emma did not know how to be a virtuous woman and happy woman at the same time. The break between worldly love and heavenly love lead her astray and towards adultery, and the lack of guidance from the Church caused her to become confused.

Finding worldly love has become more and more important today, and many people will travel the same roads as Emma in pursuit of the celestial lover, trying to make their sufferings and sacrifices of use to some one. Like Emma, they are motivated by the ideas that they deserve better and that happiness is found in Love. These ideals caused Emma to commit adultery and tragically end her life; she represents the modern person trapped between the ideals of the Christian tradition and modern times. Because of this conflict of interest, the modern man, as demonstrated by Emma Bovary, will suffer from insatiable and conflicting desires.

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